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Republican Mitt Romney got a boost in Iowa yesterday from the Des Moines Register, becoming the first Republican that the paper has endorsed since Richard Nixon. Governor Romney was in Florida trying to drum up the votes on the first day early voting. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Governor Romney's Saturday swing through this key swing state was all about motivating the troops. And he started on friendly ground in the Republican-dominated panhandle counties nearest the Alabama line. Local Congressman Jeff Miller warmed up the 10,000-strong crowd in Pensacola with a sly nod to a slighting reference President Obama made to rural voters as a candidate in 2008.
REPRESENTATIVE JEFF MILLER: Here we are again clinging to our guns and our religion.
ELLIOTT: After a rock-star-like entrance down an aisle of the arena, Romney built to his closing theme about this being an election that can bring big change.
MITT ROMNEY: This is not a president who has been able to stand up to the challenge of the times. This is an election about big things, about big choices, and that's why in November we're going to elect a person, and a team, and a people who are going to come together to bring real change and big change to America.
ELLIOTT: This was Romney's first appearance in the panhandle since he won the nomination. Republican strategist Scott Miller of Pensacola says it was important for him to come court these voters many of whom supported other candidates in the primary.
SCOTT MILLER: Well, this is where you come in to get the low-hanging fruit, where you motivate the base.
ELLIOTT: Sitting in a wheelchair on the front row of the event, Pat Aderholt from Navarre says she's doing her part.
PAT ADERHOLT: All over the panhandle, I've put up signs and bumper stickers for him. I've worked my head off to get him elected.
ELLIOTT: Romney continued his Florida tour in a part of the state that's more politically divided and ethnically diverse: along the I-4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando. It's also a region rich with independent and undecided voters. At an airport hangar in Kissimmee, Florida Senator Marco Rubio introduced Romney.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: (Spanish spoken) Mitt Romney.
ELLIOTT: Before the campaign could reach its next event near Tampa, the motorcade stopped and Senator Rubio disembarked to return home to Miami, where his daughter is hospitalized with a head injury suffered in a golf cart collision. Later, Romney addressed nearly 15,000 people from the football field at Land O' Lakes high school co-opting a theme from the TV show "Friday Night Lights."
ROMNEY: Clear eyes, full hearts, we can't lose. America is going to win. We're going to make the choice in November that's going to bring the kind of real change we need.
ELLIOTT: Romney today has shifted gears and will campaign in Ohio after postponing previously scheduled events in Virginia because of hurricane preparations there. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.